The Webbyness of Things…

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“The world is made of spider webs, The threads are stuck to me and you.  Be careful what you’re wishing for, ’cause when you gain you just might lose.” ~”Spiderweb,” Joan Osborne

Tricky thing about this World Wide Web is that no matter what we do it wants to behave like a big network.  Funny, huh?

Oh, we’ve tried to make it not so.  Advertisers and their agencies paid millions for big elaborate websites.  Then they paid CRM companies even more to increase the “stickiness” of those sites.  All in a vain effort to get consumers to stop their crawling and “stick” around a bit longer.  Media companies, portals and destination sites spent their own small fortunes to create stand-alone web properties that would fulfill consumer’s every desire if they’d just sit still for a while.  And this stubborn fixation on valuing and promoting individual spots on the web has vexed and hampered the online marketing business for much of its first 15 years.   It’s made our biggest potential strength – finding disaggregated audiences across huge swaths of the web all at the same time – seem more like chronic business problem.

But today a new vision is taking root and a new generation of thinkers and doers are emerging to finally begin leveraging the strength of the web – its very “webbyness” – for marketers.  Keeping this concept in view helps explain so much of what’s going on in our business today.

The Emergence and Proliferation of Networks: Yes, content and context are important, and always will be.  But if I’m a marketer on the web today I need people, lots of them, in a big fat hurry.  I know they’re out there; I can hear them breathing.  Can anybody help me find a way to get me in front of zillions of them, all at the same time, wherever they happen to be at that moment in time?

Snowshoeing:
A term we coined here at The Drift last year.  (OK, so nobody but me is using it, but I still find it handy.)  This is where individual media companies and destinations acknowledge that they just can’t get the necessary scale for future buys by pulling ever more people to their named URLs.  So they set about creating their own networks, tying themselves to dozens or hundreds or thousands of long-tail sites whose audience, focus or environments match their own.  The result is that there will soon be no more islands, only archipelagos.  Look around:  all the cool kids are doing it.  Everyone from Martha Stewart to Gannett to Yahoo are creating a bigger footprint (getting the snowshoe thing now?) by building and leveraging their own site networks.

Consolidation: The acquisitions of the past 18 months – Google/DoubleClick, Yahoo/Right Media/Blue Lithium, AOL/Tacoda, Microsoft/aQuantive – all point to the development of massive, transactional engines that will empower the buying, selling and management of online audience on a scale equivalent to what we see today in network television:  scale that would be impossible to achieve online without embracing “webbyness.”

What to do?  The first step to addressing any major change is acceptance.  Repeat after me:  I am not an island….I cannot be an island….I am not alone.  For today’s sales leader, you should be looking at how to coexist and profit from existing network relationships – those you belong to as well as those you control.  And for God’s sake, if your sales people are competing head to head with networks and portals for big audience buys, you need to rethink how you’re going to market.  For advertisers, blow up the online palace that’s enslaved you and embrace a true distributed messaging strategy.  It’s never been good business to try and get consumers to come to you.  Given the webbyness of the web, it’s folly.

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